What to Know in Washington: SCOTUS Weighs Agency Power Precedent
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Conservatives who for years have pushed judges to rein in federal bureaucrats have a chance to claim their biggest prize yet as the Supreme Court considers toppling a 39-year-old precedent that critics say has fueled an explosion of government overreach.
The justices on Monday agreed to hear a case testing the so-called Chevron doctrine, which provides support for agencies confronting new and emerging challenges without explicit statutory directions from Capitol Hill. The implications for government regulations — and by extension, presidential authority — are vast, potentially touching everything from climate change to finance to social media.
Presidents of both parties have leaned on the doctrine. A judge invoked it to uphold Donald Trump’s ban on bump stocks, which allow rifles to fire like machine guns. Barack Obama used Chevron to defend a rule encouraging states to adopt more renewable power. And Joe Biden said courts should defer to regulators seeking to expand federal oversight of waterways.
Chevron deference dates back to 1984, when the justices said that when Congress wrote a statute without a clear meaning, courts should defer to the federal agency applying the law, unless its directives were unreasonable.
Early on, conservatives embraced the Chevron ruling, but critics of big government have since organized to fight it. Gregory Ellison, an assistant professor of law at Northern Illinois University, said the backlash also came from businesses, including oil and gas companies, as they were affected by agency actions.
“The Supreme Court has the opportunity to rein in executive power run amok,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom.
More recently, Republican-appointed justices have soured on the doctrine. Still, the Supreme Court has rebuffed calls to revisit Chevron at least four times since 2019, opting instead to use other means to roll back agency authority. Read the full story from Emily Birnbaum, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, and Greg Stohr.
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